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Politics And Its Affect On The Olympics

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Politics is the art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs. The Olympic Games is an event held every 4 years, which includes a variety of sport activities in which different countries compete against one another. "Sport is frequently a tool of diplomacy. By sending delegations of athletes abroad, states can establish a first basis for diplomatic relations or can more effectively maintain such relations" (Espy 3). One might think that politics and the Olympics have nothing to do with each other, but in fact they do have a lot in common. How did politics affect the Olympic Games in 1936, 1968 and 1972?

In 1934, the death of President Hindenburg of Germany removed the last remaining obstacle for Adolf Hitler to assume power. Soon thereafter, he declared himself President and Fuehrer, which means "supreme leader". That was just the beginning of what would almost 12 years of Jewish persecution in Germany, mainly because of Hitler's hatred towards the Jews. It is difficult to doubt that Hitler genuinely feared and hated Jews. His whole existence was driven by an obsessive loathing of them (Hart-Davis 14).

In 1935, the U.S. decided to attend the Ð''36 Berlin games, even though the United States knew how Hitler was persecuting the Jews. By July 1933, at least 27,000 people had been placed in what Hitler liked to call "detention camps" (Hart-Davis 16). In early 1932 at an IOC meeting in Barcelona, the committee decided to grant Germany the right to the 1936 Olympic Games, which allowed Germany to restore their athletic reputation that they lost because of the outbreak of World War I. All over the world, there was an outcry to boycott or at least change the location of the Ð''36 Olympics. The IOC's first response was that they had granted Germany the Olympic site before the Nazis' came to power. All over Germany before the Olympic Games were signs that read Juden Unerwunscht, or "Jews not wanted." "The racial discrimination- so obvious and deliberate- was more than some foreign sports organizations could stomach. Apart from being offensive to normal human beings, the Nazi attitude was also diametrically opposed to the principle of free competition on which the Olympics were supposed to based" (Hart Davis 62).

More than anywhere else, action against what was happening in Germany mounted more quickly in the United States, especially in New York, where there were almost 2 million Jews living (Hart Davis 62). The first sport-like countermeasure came in November of 1933 when the Amateur Athletic Union, under its President Judge Jeremiah Mahoney, passed a resolution calling on the IOC to inform Germany that unless Jewish athletes were allowed to prepare for and participate in the Olympic Games, American athletes would not take part. This had no effect on the German ideal mainly because Germany saw sports to be their way of gaining revenge on all those enemies who had benefited from Germany's defeat in World War I (Hart Davis 64).

When the games finally started on August 1, 1936, the "scene had been set" (Hart Davis 64). All of the signs abusing Jews had been taken down, and the Nazis' re-opened all Jewish shops. The defining moment of the Berlin games was when Jesse Owens, a grandson of black slaves in Alabama, won four gold medals. After his win in the broad jump, white German Lutz Long, walked arm in arm with Owens, in front of Hitler (Frommer 60). "Sports fans remember the Olympics in Berlin in 1936 for the achievements of Jesse OwensÐ'...for others those memorable Berlin Games will always be thought of as the "Nazi Olympics" (Frommer 62).

Before 1968, there was a movement in the United States mostly led by Martin Luther King Jr., known as the Civil Rights Movement. However, it didn't only take place in the U.S., but all over the world, especially on the continent of Africa. There was a question about whether to allow South Africa to participate in the 1968 games, especially since they had been banned from attending the 1964 games in Tokyo, Japan, mainly because of their intractable attitude towards the IOC's rules (Espy 94). The IOC is the International Olympic Committee, which makes all of the important decisions about the games and is basically the Supreme Court for the Olympics.

The 1968 Olympics were games filled with controversy and boycotts before and during the competition (Frommer 84). The first controversy came when many nations objected to the selection of Mexico City as the Olympic site because it was more than 7,000 feet above sea level and would, therefore, provide an unfair advantage to athletes accustomed to a high altitude. The first boycott came from African- American athletes, who made up most of the track-and-field team, considered to be the most important part of the Olympics. It was led by Harry Edwards, "a ghetto bred negro," (Espy 115), who at first boycotted the famous New York Athletic Club indoor meet, because even though they allowed African- Americans to compete in the race, they did not allow them as members. In the end, Edwards' decided a boycott would not take place. A few months later, a demonstration of Mexican students, who were upset by international government policies, threatened to cancel the games, but after it all, 260 people were killed and 1,200 injured (Espy 120).

However, the major boycott before the 1968 Olympics was the debate of South Africa. South Africa claimed that if they were re-instated,

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